Railway History

This article was prompted by my reading of a back number of the “Continental Modeller”, wherein there was a sparkling article entitled “Wanderings in the western Cape -  South African scenes to inspire modelling”, which whetted my appetite to find out more.

 

The railway line that connects South Africa to Namibia is now 100 years old and owes its origin to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. The cross border stretch between Prieska, Northern Cape and Karasburg (formerly Kalkfontein), Namibia was hastily built as a military railway to give logistical support to General Louis Botha’s troops in his 1915 invasion of what was then German South West Africa (a colony twice the size of the Fatherland).

The authors of NZASM 100, the definitive study of the railway architecture of the Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-Maatschappij (NZASM), describe the tunnel at Waterval Boven as ‘probably the best-known and most famous of all NZASM structures’. We visited this Provincial Heritage Site recently and it is certainly a sight to behold. Add the overall natural beauty of the area and the view of the stunning Elands Waterfall and it is not surprising that the site is a major tourist attraction.

In 1975 the singer-songwriter, Chris De Burgh released his second album entitled “Spanish Train and other Stories”. The title track was immediately banned in South Africa on sacrilegious grounds, due to the mention of the Devil playing poker for souls of the dead with Jesus Christ and the album was re-titled and issued here as “Lonely Sky and other Stories”.

Below is the second part of an article compiled by NZASM expert Robert de Jong in the late 1980s (the Nederlansche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-Maatschappij (NZASM) was a Dutch company responsible for the construction and administration of many early Transvaal railway lines). The first piece looked at the structures and buildings of the Rand Tram while this one looks at the Southern Line.

Robert De Jong is one of the foremost experts on the Nederlansche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-Maatschappij (NZASM), a Dutch company responsible for the construction and administration of many early Transvaal railway lines. The following article, which looks at various structures associated with the Rand Tram, appeared in a number of publications in the late 1980s.

The catchphrase “Cape to Cairo” was first coined in 1874, by Edwin Arnold (editor of the Daily Telegraph) and was taken up by Cecil John Rhodes as a call for the “Civilisation” of Darkest Africa. To Rhodes civilisation meant the exploitation of the mineral wealth of the vast interior of the African continent. He was a controversial figure in his day and remains so today.

Peter Ball continues his epic History of Southern African Railways series with this superb piece on the line from Mossel Bay to Oudsthoorn. He sets the historical context, highlights the incredibly difficult terrain for railway building and concludes that it is remarkable that the line was built at all.

Thousands of people in South Africa and abroad dream of the day when the famous Outeniqua Choo Tjoe will run again. In the article below Peter Ball sketches the history and potential future of this world in one branch line.

Peter Ball returns with this fantastic article on narrow gauge railways in South Africa. He believes that the line from Port Elizabeth towards the Langkloof, which can be reopened in stages, is the most viable preservation project in the country and argues that we should look to the Welsh experience over the last sixty years for inspiration.

In the previous installment of the History of Southern African Railways series Peter Ball explored the politics and economics of the Benguela Railway. In this edition he heads east and unpacks the complexities of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway.

On the 14th July 1976 the Chinese officially handed over the TAN-ZAM Railway to the Governments of Tanzania and Zambia. It had taken just five years to build and its commissioning would change the pattern of economic dependencies in the region.

In this article Peter Ball jumps across a few borders and looks at some of the history and politics of the Benguela Railway which runs for over 1300km across Angola.

This installment of the History of Southern African Railways series looks at the demise of the branch line network and will be relevant to many in the heritage community. Over the last few decades many lines have been closed and the heritage assets associated with them have fallen into disrepair. We certainly hope that Transnet's strategy to revitalise the branch line network will go some way towards turning this situation around.

In the previous installment of the History of Southern African Railways series Peter Ball looked at the role of the railways during the South African War. In this piece he looks at post war reconstruction, the completion of various lines and the contribution of the railways to political union in South Africa.

Following hot on the heels of the 'Race to the Rand' here is the third installment of the History of Southern African Railway Series by Peter Ball. The article looks at the role of the railways during the South African War (the Second Anglo-Boer War).

In the first installment of the series on the history of Southern African railways, Peter Ball described some of the earliest railways in the country and the extension of a number of lines into the interior. In this article he looks at the fascinating politics and economics of the 'Race for the Rand'.

Over the coming months we will be publishing a series of articles, compiled by Peter Ball, on the history of Southern African railways. The first installment looks at some of the earliest railways in the country and the extension of various lines into the interior (driven by the great mineral discoveries of the second half of the nineteenth century).

It was forty-five years ago (1970) that the Johannesburg City Council was formulating a policy to tackle the issue of traffic congestion brought about by the increased use of the motor car as a means of commuting to work.  One solution which had great appeal was an underground railway system similar to that of London and Paris.

Pages

Subscribe to Railway History